The Greeks and the Enlightenment

I have finally began my exploration into Greek Philosophy, which is considered the birth of all subsequent western philosophical reflection.  I have discovered so many interesting things so far, and have much more to do.


This post will be focused only on one brief facet of early Greek thought, so that i am not typing too long. More will be coming soon.


One point i found interesting was the parallels between what birthed philosophy in the west to later historical/philosophical developments. The Presocratics (the first of three stages in Greek thought) were forerunners of the Enlightenment because they saw their culture in bondage to fear of religion and its superstitions.  As Barnes points out, “the presocratics were not atheists; they allowed the gos into their brave new world, and some of them attempted to produce an improved and rationalized theology in place of the anthropomorphic divinities of the Olympian Pantheon (xviii).”


While they were not atheists, they were introducing rational and more scientific ways of thinking about their world.  Morey gives an apt illustration by saying that with the rise of astronomy and mathematics, “men began to learn that the movement of the heavenly bodies is controlled by certain fixed laws, and not by the whim of the gods (162).”


The outcome of this is easy to see.  Morey again:  “They began to lose faith in the old mythology, and to seek for some explanation of things more in accordance with reason.  Philosophy thus tended to purify the old religion (162).”  It should be noted that it did not “kill religion” as such, but drastically changed it.


When i read these ideas, i hear Kant and Harnack echoing approval.  This approach is very much in their spirit of thinking.


From this i ask how can the church faithfully accept newer and more complex findings from outside disciplines, like cosmology, biology, psychology and the like, without losing its soul, its heart?  Aren’t we already asking those questions when we have people like Borg, Spong, and Gulley offering an “alternative” view of the Christian faith? 


While losing the heart of the Gospel (Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement) can’t happen, another “the world is flat” answer from the church won’t work either.  How can the faith remain grounded in its ancient apostolicity while being surrounded by an increasingly complex world?  How do we incarnate this pure, “simple” Gospel?




  1. Matthew

    First of all, I think it is important to mention that the church never believed that the world was flat. That is a modern myth of history.

    Second, I do not think that the parallels between the Presocratics and the Enlightenment are significant. The gods are not comparable to God. They were irrational and mystical. The Christian God is neither. A little more rationality to the Greek gods couldn’t help but be a good thing. But it is unhelpful to suppose that they “introducing more scientific ways of thinking about the world”. They didn’t. Their explanations of the world were philosophical in content even though they were about the structure of the natural world.

    Finally, I do not think that we have a choice about accepting the findings of other disciplines. If these answers are correct, then they cannot damage the Christian faith. Perhaps the question should be more along these lines: are there any areas in other disciplines that proceed along anti-Christian lines (ie. secular psychology and demonic oppression). Then we should be asking how to understand other disciplines in the light of the Christian faith (rather than how to ground the faith in the context of these disciplines).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: